I’ve been talking to mums and dads who have taken part in our recent surveys. The pattern that emerges goes something like this. Dads are made to feel they cannot possibly work flexibly and are told that taking Shared Parental Leave is a major inconvenience. One dad said his boss tried to ban him from taking SPL, not realising that it is the law. From the mums side, the usual story is that a mum has taken a pay cut of different orders of magnitude to get some form of flexibility after having kids and has fallen behind/been sidetracked and is stuck in a job she could do in her sleep.
Neither mums nor dads seem happy with the situation, understandably. The problem is the model of work we have is not fit for purpose because it doesn’t take into account life – the reproduction of the species/workforce, the caring for the workforce of the future and the general wellbeing of the workforce of the present. Up till recently women did all that other stuff for free. Now, due to the cost of living and changing social values, both parents work.
If you have a model that ignores some pretty major realities and you ignore those and insist on pushing forward with it, something is going to give. Reality is a bit of a brick wall in that respect. That brick wall doesn’t just disappear because you want it to, Brexit being a case in point.
When I started working for Workingmums I confess that I was fuelled by anger at my own situation and that of my peers. I still am [I earn the equivalent of what I was earning when I was 25 and I work all hours], but my children are now coming to an age when they are thinking about life after school. I would like it to be easier for them to have both a rewarding family and work life. Talking to mums and dads who are around 20 years younger than me I am not confident that it will be.
Of course there has been progress over the years and more and more employers get the flexibility issue – although some have exploited it for their own gain, but not nearly enough fully grasp the need for it.
Having children in this country is treated as an inconvenience, as a personal lifestyle choice. It is almost like the UK wants to punish people who have children. You should not have had children if you can’t afford them is the kind of comment you get thrown in your face. But how much do you need to earn to afford them? Doesn’t the cost of it all – of childcare and of care generally [which involves being around more than half an hour a night] – price out half the population? Is that a sustainable model for any country? Look at the Far East where there is a population crisis because people are not having children as it is deemed too hard to manage children and work.
I remember going to a flexible working event way back. Young people were talking with lovely powerpoints of ducks, etc, about the joys of working from mountains, beaches, etc. And it’s great that some can. The cold hard reality for parents, though, is that flexible working is not just a nice to have. It is an absolute basic necessity.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.